Psychology + Zen = Philosophy and methods to relieve suffering and reveal happiness.

Psychology:  We project onto others what we reject in ourselves.  Some call it a Shadow.  Healing comes from making the unconscious conscious, taking responsibility for our projections, integrating what is split off as our own thing. 

Zen:  There is no separate self.  When we can be at one with every aspect, then we belong everywhere and we reject no one.  

We heal the world by becoming intimate with our whole selves.   


Saturday
Jun012019

Game of Thrones Addict Wakes Up

 

Let's start with the antidote: it's the brothels, Baby. Some smart feminists have opined on the forms of feminine power and how they are portrayed, and there is a lot to say about that. Personally, I think Game of Thrones accurately portrays our world and that is why it is compelling. The women who have power either have it through the men or by becoming masculinized exceptions to the gender rules. 

Some other stuff I found essential and interesting: good people are hurt and betrayed and killed. Sometimes they are avenged and sometimes not. Unlike most stuff we watch, we don't always know who is the good one. This complexity deteriorates in the end, as many have noticed, but I don't really agree with the suggested repairs. For example, Daenerys goes from a valiant warrior for justice with a bit of a temper problem but learning from her mistakes to a vengeful unstoppable madwoman within minutes. Ok, those minutes involved seeing her best friend beheaded, and yes, she had a history of significant trauma (as do they all, actually), so it is plausible as a deadly trigger. However, even a full-on rage attack has a lifespan. To bomb the entire city of innocent citizens served no purpose either strategically or psychologically. 

No, but it served the story. It allowed her and Serse, the other vengeful despot, to be destroyed. By the way, the suggestion for repair involved having her learn from her mistakes, then make the tough choice to destroy all magic, including her beloved John who was only alive because of it. The same critic would have also featured Jaime's moral development. Jamie, for those who will never watch the show, is the dude who pushed a boy out of a window rather than be caught having sex with his sister whom he later raped and then chose to die with. I'm a psychologist so I'm skeptical that either one can be redeemed, certainly not without at least 20 boring episodes of psychoanalysis.

So let's look at the broad strokes. Two powerful vengeful women dead. Of the honorable Stark family, one big sister (Sansa), who has learned to hide her power and manipulate, leaves the capital to be Queen of her own realm. The younger sister, who has become a great warrior, also leaves to pursue the unknown. Good for her! but note that there is no room for her in the civilized world. Toughie Brianne is abandoned by the man she loved and now gets to function like a man on the council. Most of the other women were either killed or their story lines were just dropped. oops, I guess it wasn't important.

By the way, speaking of honor, one hero defines it thus: "A man of honor serves his King even if he is a drunkard, liar or mad." And actually, some of our heroes challenge the rules of honor. Arya disobeys an order to kill someone she values. John can't kill a wildling woman. (Wildlings stand for the rejected outsiders in this show, though they are all white.) And I do think this is another value of the show. Unlike the obedient Republicans, we need to be able to see through what a despot commands, and disobey. 

I would take it a lot further though. A. lot. further. Let's look at the last scenes. Daenerys and John cancel each other out and so we are left with a council of nobles who have no problem 'voting' for Brandon Stark as ruler of the realm. Brandon is the youngest of the Starks, the one who lost the use of his legs, the one who spent most of the time while everyone else was fighting living in the past with his eyes rolled up in his head. What has he learned from his daydreaming? We don't know. He's barely eighteen. Have you ever dealt with a teen boy? Would you want him to rule the Seven Kingdoms? We don't even know if he can pay attention to the basics. He didn't even develop his upper arm strength, just expected others to push him around. Didn't even thank them much. Sound familiar? 

Then it gets worse. Directors seem to love to give us jokey talking as a relief from tense drama, but actually it's in the jokes that the truth is revealed. At almost the last scene we are treated to an affectionate council meeting in which there is playful banter about whether funds should go toward building defenses or repairing the brothels. heh heh, I know where my money would go, heh heh

Many women were offended by the naked sex workers as well as the onscreen rapes and other brutality. But the brutality felt like brutality; the sex work was never challenged. The prostitutes were usually laughing, horny as hell, and seemed to love their work, as if they had chosen it. But they didn't. They had no choice. They were slaves. They never expressed resentment about their bondage. They didn't get to be any kind of hero. They were never liberated. They were never even noticed. After a while they became background. We watched the men have conversations while naked women sat on their laps.

And so this penultimate scene is what I found to be most distressing, disgusting, and in need of calling out. If you show us many wrong things that meet their consequence yet continue to show the happy enslavement of women then you are a slave trader, a user of women without their consent. This is what we need to question, just as we need to question the received ideas about beauty and the matter of the electibility of women. 

Game of Thrones is a world we can step out of in order to see alternative possibilites. Let's use it to repair our own. 

May 2019

 

 

Thursday
May022019

What's in a Name? Francie

Here's another example of working with what presents itself. I happened upon these umbrellas whipping around in the wind at nearly the same moment that my collaborator overheard a conversation. They came together without coming together. One minute, thirty eight seconds.

April 2019

Tuesday
Apr302019

Taking the Poison

Joanna Macy: Ever Widening CirclesYou know how when the jackhammer stops you realize how much your body was participating? It stops, I relax, relieved, now I can write. But then it starts back up again and, oh the pain, can I write through it, with it? It doesn't do any good to try to feel what I felt when it stopped; it just adds a layer of frustration. It doesn't do any good to pretend I don't hear it; that adds a layer of tension and dishonesty. When I'm pretending I'm not noticing, and then there is no flow. Writing about it, on the other hand releases me to make connections, thus:

Some of us want to leave the country. It's just too much. The oligarchs seem to have all the resources, the patriarchy is entrenched, the good don't win, the earth is wailing as we gang rape her. New Zealand looks so much better from here. But recently I listened to a podcast with the very old and very wise Joanna Macy in which she drew inspiration from Rilke as she faced difficulty. Some words from a sonnet to Orpheus:

Let this darkness be a bell tower and you the bell.
As you ring, what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What's it like, this intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter turn yourself to wine.
In this uncontainable night
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses

Macy talked about what we do if a dear child or our mother is dying. If we love we stay, we try to stay, we don't avoid the pain, and neither should we love the earth less because we fear it to be unhealthy, or even our democracy. Even that. Or our poisonous culture.

I love to say I don't watch TV, don't have a TV, but that requires that I mildly pretend to myself that I am immune from formula, from a hunger for suspense, for romance, for good guys triumphing over the bad, and it is nearly always guys. Looking for a new show to binge, my friend recommended Rectify, and so I watched the whole 20-plus hours, watched the wronged white guy get supported by his family, his black friends who held no resentment for his comparative freedom, and countless lovely women who were smitten by his awesome depth and fascinating awkwardness. Yeah, because I fell for guys like that, wasted a lot of time projecting my own qualities onto them and then trying to obtain them by getting them to love me. It doesn't do any good to try not to do that. I can only ring the bell of pain. And as I do that I hear my voice, and there, I'm free because I already have what I want. 

Now I'm working on understanding Game of Thrones. So far the best part is that instead of checking phones, they have to wait for ravens to deliver news from other realms. What seems problematic are the gorgeous happy naked whores being trained by men to pleasure men (someone tell me they fix this in the next 20 hours!), the equation of honor with blood lineage, the constant butchery and treachery in the name of revenge and justice, and of course the damnable disproportionate screentime for men. If we don't see it, we can't interact with it at all. There are virtually no non-pretty powerful women anywhere in film or TV. Behold the first two lines of the cast page:

70% male

The whole page has 19 women, all beautiful, and 31 men, many old or fat or strange looking. Actually I'm remembering that there is an old woman who played a maid, but she is not included in this cast page. Anyway, seeing this line-up activates the not-enough software installed by the symbiotic glamour industry. I feel mad, gloomy, anxious, want to get highlights, want to disappear. Move back and forth into the change. I am still here, existing as I am, as are the beautiful women around me who don't look like the Hollywood ideal. If I keep showing my face as it is that isn't nothing. It is an intervention. I turn myself to wine. And maybe get some highlights? 

Joanna Macy and others have noted that even as our country is being devoured by the forces of greed there are many communities growing out of a different model, one that acknowledges interconnection and strives for justice and the true equality of appreciating difference. We can ground our attention there while we partake in the poisons. We can notice our breath as we feel jerked around by the unceasing demands to look, to buy, to one-up the other customers. I am a customer, yes, but I am also the mystery at the crossroads of my senses. Thank you, Ms. Macy and Mr. Rilke.

 

April 2019

 

 

 

 

Thursday
Mar282019

Doing It

No, not that, though the same principles apply.

Once you have a schedule that works, that you can really trust, that you know won't leave you in a panic before the train, that will get the bills paid, that will accommodate respect for people on the sidewalk, then you can make yourself a little pocket. Maybe even a big pocket, but 

the main point is that within this pocket there is no time, no rushing, no distraction; there is concentrated attention given permission to roam. 

We are human beings above all, not just shoppers. As D. Graham Burnett said beautifully during our Urban Sesshin, our attention is being bought and sold by the richest companies in America. Google and Facebook want us to be distracted, want us to fail to focus, want us to procrastinate by buying that updated device. 

But each of us has something important to say, something to give to the world, to help us actually evolve instead of repeating the tussles of the past. Each of us has our own unique expression. We don't have to be capital A Artists, just alive.

Here is my offering for today, a 5 minute meditation on my place:

 

 

Thursday
Mar282019

Why You Need a Psychotherapist

The other day I was doing laundry and I overheard this conversation between a very perky person and a politely suffering person.

Perky: "Other than being sick, how are you?"
Suffering: "Ok I guess" 
Perky: "How's the puppy?"
Suffering: "The puppy died; we had to put him down."
Perky: "oh well, now you don't have to worry anymore."
Suffering: "still, it was sad."
Perky: "it's a tough decision but it was the right thing; how is your husband taking it?"
Suffering: "he was crying for days"
Perky: "how is he now, ok? are you getting a new one?"
Suffering: "I don't think so, no."

I suppose it continued in the same vein but fortunately, because I was finished loading the dryer, I escaped before tearing a giant hole in the social fabric of this public perky space.

Life is suffering, the Buddhists say, which is rough on perk, which nevertheless remains popular and pushy, like a big bully. If the bright side doesn’t close the exchange, the participants seem to feel that they’ll be stuck with the big bag of gloom. We want so much to cling to the idea that everything is fine, or everything is going to be fine.

This week my good friend died of brain cancer. Fortunately no one delivered the bright side, because the cycle of life and death is as bright as it needs to be. Grief is part of that because we are connected to each other. Grief is fine with me.

On the other hand, when Trump claims to be exonerated and accuses the FBI of treason, I really really want someone to give me the bright side. Things do not seem fine at all in the US of A, and I feel morose, and then everything I encounter is wrapped in sticky strands of morosity.

We need to share things with each other, and yet our responses to each other and to events are limited by our ability to tolerate complex emotion. Mr. Trump, for example, can only swing between "very very bad" and "tremendous." Perky person above is jammed on cheerful, and morose is jammed on morose, and humans are designed to mirror each other except when they are mad or morose themselves or fear being morose or when they are your mother or your husband or otherwise have their own interests to protect.

So, yeah, it really does help to have someone who has enough theory to keep them occupied so that they neither follow you into gloom nor invalidate your misery through excessive cheer. Maybe along the way you can so-called change your ways but I've come to feel that is not the most important thing. You might be ok just as you are, and we'll get through it together. 

 

Monday
Feb252019

Do Things Exist?

Madame Vivian V and her grandmother. Photo by Jessie OhIt's all about Getting Things Done, right? If we get things done we can feel accomplished, worthy. I've studied the organizing self-help literature exhaustively and tried a panoply of systems. I've mindmapped, I've bucketed, I've wandered, I've prioritized and I've panicked. I've let it all go and gotten depressed. I've put myself back on a schedule, felt better, then constrained, then pissed off, so I ditched it all again. I have a structure now, which developed after I ruthlessly looked at what I actually do, how long things take, and what my body needs. It's an ongoing process, continually adapting to change within and without.

But what about the thing itself? Creativity is fickle. When you try to tie it down, it slips away. Sometimes I give myself related tasks, like learning a program, and then it bubbles up in a small act of resistance. Creativity itself is resistance, isn't it? You know how things are supposed to be done but there's a little voice that protests: "It doesn't have to be this way." But I get stuck in how to give life to the alternative.

Going back to Artist's Way recently, I remembered the importance of practicing flow by writing whatever comes to mind. Later I remembered why I stopped--so much drivel! At one point I burned my diaries. Because there is something deeper than the chatter of the mind. When I sit still in zazen I sense it. When I watch water hitting rock I feel it. When I walk in nature I know it. The camera never captures it. What is it, really?

Last night at 3am I was bathed in some kind of idea, really awash in it, and it seemed so important that I actually wrote on a post-it: Excess. This morning, what? Maybe it has something to do with learning from an old friend that millennial speak now includes: "oh Mom, that's so extra!" Why is that a bad thing? I guess for the same reason that people tried to be cool back in the day. And for sure the aesthetic of nothing extra appeals to me. Why else do I give things away, burn things, abandon things? But there is something really great about excess, something beautiful. Look at drag queens for example. The same stuff that can be imprisoning for women becomes glorious in excess. Watching a play recently I couldn't take my eyes off Madam Vivian V. She was huuuge, towering over the other players in platform stilettos, and confident as only a queen can be.

But I digress.

Or do I? I meant to write a post on time management, but the existential title plopped out and then I followed it and somehow arrived here. We could say that existence itself is excess, especially for the humans. Or we could say that nothing is ever really added or subtracted. Anyway how can Madame Vivian claim so much space when many women my age apologize with their bodies for even being in the room? Millennials telling us we are too much. It’s an old message, freshly packaged, newly poisonous.

Oh yes, we exist. As for things, I don’t know.

Tuesday
Jan292019

You Be You

Last Sunday I gave a dharma talk* at the Village Zendo on the matter of becoming yourself. Like many Zen practices, it's an absurd and paradoxical goal. You already are who you really are, and yet things get complicated by the mind. 

The previous weekend we had a panel discussion with two Black Zen teachers who talked about how it is to be the only Black person in a community, how it is to deal with racist projections and expectations. James Lynch spoke of the importance of caring for yourself, not defining yourself by how others see you. And Malik Hokyu talked about confronting the objectifications that arise, how hard it is to locate their source. 

For the most part, Zen practice focuses on clearing away the delusion of a separate self, and there is no doubt that the more we sit the more we can drop our dependence on identity. But when we see each other, we see the marks of identity: skin color, gender expression, clothing or hairdo, disability if visible, body type and so on. Our minds are built to categorize and predict, so it is impossible to eliminate the expectations and judgement that shape the way we interact with each other. 

When you are a person who is marked as different from others, the usual process of forming an identity gets tangled; what gets reflected may not feel true. When I was growing up, moving from army base to army base, there were no other Russian disabled kids. I felt like a misfit, and so I struggled to imitate the customs in each place. Only in the woods by myself could I feel alive and genuinely connected. By high school I figured out how to construct an identity as a quirky drama girl that allowed me to behave in odd ways and still be popular. People saw in me what I wanted them to see. 

But this sort of thing initiates a split between who we feel ourselves to be and how we are perceived by others. and that split drives us to Zen, or psychotherapy, or destructive acting out. The bad news is that healing the split actually requires meeting the aspect of self that we try to cover. 

For me, that is weakness. My disabilities are serious but not visible. I've figured out how I can adapt movement so that I can dance, adapted my household so that I can eat (hint: don't bring me a jar unless you will open it for me), adapted my personality so that I see myself as a hero not a victim. But underneath there is still an aspect that is the toddler who can't walk, the kid who can't keep up, the adult who gets tangled up trying to get an item out of my pocket without a wrist to bend. And that aspect feels shameful because I have learned that it is better to cover it. 

Fortunately or unfortunately life always serves up what I reject. This year I've developed a quaver in my voice, something sticky in my throat or diaphragm. I believe it reads as fear, which is not ok at all, right? The more I try to control it the more prominent it gets. So the good news is that I have no choice but to embrace the fear, and fear of fear. I breathe, do what I do as I am, notice how people respond, sometimes say something about it, watch it come and go. 

It doesn't seem like good news when something comes up to challenge our identity. But actually taking down who we think we are or who others think we are, over and over again, is what makes us grow, and even to become fearless. That's the paradox. Rejecting nothing, including everything, that's how you can be who you really are. 

After I wrote this, I listened to an On Being podcast having to do with just this, exposing what we are taught to be ashamed about. So, for me it's whatever a vocal quaver indicates, but it could be anything. What would our culture look like if we all had the courage to out our true selves? 

*The Dharma talk has a slightly different focus, on the matter of being alone.

January 2019

 

 

 

Thursday
Dec132018

Kabillion Year-Old Rage and Female Sexuality

Photo by Jesse Jiryu DavisIn this Dharma talk, I looked into how to work with rage so that we can atone for it all, as we promise to do in our Zen Gatha of Atonement.

All evil karma ever committed by me since of old,
on account of my beginningless greed, anger, and ignorance,
born of my body, mouth, and thought,
Now I atone for it all....

It turned out that understanding how female sexuality worked provided a clue into how we can accept the unacceptable and disintegrate.  

November 2018

Friday
Nov022018

Rapunzel, 40 years later

Well, folks, here's a sloppy but fun little cut of my improvisation at the Barrow Group. I cut the nine minute piece to three and a half, taking liberties with speed and audio, but I think you'll get the jist.

Can Rapunzel break free of the patriarchy? 

For those of you wondering why I missed the summer Zen retreat, it was for this. :/ 

 

Thursday
Nov012018

Something about anger

I have to start somewhere. Next Thursday (November 8th), following the midterm elections, I'll give a talk on kabillion year-old rage, intense female sexuality, and love. Might as well start with something about anger.

Last month, following the Kavanaugh hearings, our Zen community met for council practice and someone told a story that featured million-year-old rage. That sparked a flame around the circle and so we burned, kabillion-year-old rage fueled by memories of abuse, oppression, shame, helplessness, terror. Even if we can't remember what happened 10,000 years ago, our bodies howl in response to today's injury.

A line from a koan: When the dragon howls, clouds moving over the caves grow dark.

Clouds respond. Humans respond. When I asked Roshi whether Trump is the howling dragon, she said he is the tail. How can we respond effectively to the war he is cultivating? 

It is said (on bumper stickers) that if you aren't outraged you aren't paying attention. Ok, but Kavanaugh was outraged too and now all the troops are out on both sides. This country is built on the idea that adversaries will arrive at truth. How's that working? The courts are wasting time proving technicalities instead of repairing, congress is a bloody mess with fangs and ruptured jugulars, and the populace is ever-ready to bend the truth to the victor.

Is it possible to live in peace with all this? Some would bypass it, live in some kind of dissociated equanimity, but I strive to include everything, including anger.

Buddhist advice on anger ranges from the fundamentalist--cease from anger, to the aspirational--be kind, think loving thoughts about your mother, to the psychological--hold the anger like a baby or inquire into it (see for example, Thich Nhat Hanh or Ezra Bayda). 

In my work as a psychologist and in my own life, I understand feelings as being comprised of sensation, thought, and action tendency.

Anger is felt differently by people depending on what they experienced--their own anger or anger they witnessed. My own is nearly indistinguishable from fear because I grew up with disabilities that prevented me from ever winning a fight. Many women experience a mix of anger, fear, or sadness, and almost everyone experiences tension when trying not to act out. Of all the feelings, anger has the strongest action tendency that is forbidden. Well, it used to be forbidden; now it is stoked by our president.

What to do!? 

When we sit in meditation, the urge to punish can fall away, leaving clarity and determination. Fear can rise and fall, informing effective protection. The flow of sadness can open our hearts, giving us inspiration and fortitude to have conversations with those who differ from us. And maybe tension can ease as we accept the variety of experience. And then we act. We respond.

Please don't check out. Take care of yourself and those you love, have some fun, eat some food, get some sleep, and then act. Donate to someone, help get out the vote, go to a march, have a good conversation with someone on the other side. Take heart in impermanence and the certainty that every breath, every thought, every glance, every word affects the outcome. 

Next up, emergent strategy and intense female sexual desire, a response to Musho's talk: "Intense male sexual desire." 

October 2018